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How To Open Your Eyes Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

I’ve previously given my top tips on underwater modelling, based on my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model. So I’m going to continue this as a little blog series! And I’m starting with a question: can you open your eyes underwater? Being able to open your eyes underwater is a really important part of underwater modelling. If you can’t open your eyes, you may still be able to get some beautiful shots with closed eyes, but to be a successful underwater model you need to be able to open them. As the old saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul – and in underwater photography, seeing a model with their eyes open is part of what really brings that magical, fantastical quality to the picture.

So if you’re not comfortable with opening your eyes underwater, how do you get there? Realistically, you do need to accept that opening your eyes underwater is likely to sting, and you’ll need to practice to get comfortable with it gradually, over time. Here are some key pointers that will help you get there.

Learn How To Open Your Eyes Underwater

1. Start By Staying Still

If you swim forwards with your eyes open, it’s more painful, because you’re effectively forcing the water into your eyes. For your first attempts at opening your eyes underwater, try to stay quite still as you open them.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

2. Avoid Chlorine If You Can

Chlorine and heavily salted water are the most unpleasant on your eyes, but even fresh water will sting a little bit. Aim to start trying to open your eyes underwater in lightly chlorinated water, or natural water such as an ocean or lake that is clear and free of other irritants (such as a lot of dirt or sand).

If you’re in a public swimming pool, remember that these tend to have higher chlorine levels than private pools or tanks, so your eyes are likely to sting more in a public pool. You may find that opening your eyes underwater in the ocean is less painful – but if there are a lot of waves, be aware that this can stir up the sand and leave you with painful sand particles in your eyes.

Make sure you have eye drops on hand for when you get out of the water – there are lots of great drops on the market, and I recommend looking for the kind that are marketed as being more viscous or gels, such as Viscotears liquid gel.

Check out those pink eyes in this backstage shot by Johannes Hjorth

3. Check The Temperature

It’s also worth being aware that the temperature of the water will make a difference. The most unpleasant underwater photoshoot I ever did was in an indoor tank, and me and the other models noticed that our eyes were burning much worse than normal. We spoke to the tank operators and they did several checks on the chlorine levels, which were completely within the normal range – but by the end of the shoot, we were all barely able to open our eyes (and seriously glad we had brought our eye drops along!).

Afterwards we realised that the problem had almost certainly been the temperature of the water – it was a cold winter’s day and the tank was located in a chilly warehouse, so the operators had very kindly turned the temperature up to ensure we didn’t freeze. However, the warmer water meant that the chlorine was reacting more easily with our eyes and thus a lot more painful than usual. So if you’re shooting in a heated pool or tank, try not to have the temperature turned up too high. You’re better off being briefly cold than having red vampire eyes for days afterwards!

4. Build Up Slowly

Start by opening your eyes for one or two seconds and build up from there. Practice makes perfect, but don’t spend too long practicing at once – spread it out over a number of different sessions to make sure you’re not putting your eyes through too much punishment.

Try opening your eyes while looking upwards initially, as some people find this easier.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

5. And Finally…

If you find that you’re still not comfortable opening your eyes underwater and want to shoot pictures with your eyes shut, make sure that you’re not scrunching your face up to keep your eyes closed – you want to look relaxed!

Other tips on how to open your eyes underwater…

Can you open your eyes underwater with contacts in?

If you wear contact lenses, you might be wondering whether you can swim and open your eyes underwater with contacts in. The short answer is yes, you can – but don’t! Contact lenses provide an ideal surface for bacteria and germs to stick to, pressed up against your eye, so they increase the risk of eye infections and irritation, especially if you’re modelling or performing in chlorinated water. Additionally, if you open your eyes underwater while wearing contact lenses, there’s a pretty high risk that they may come away from your eyes and get lost, or that they will absorb the water and change shape, which can be damaging to your eyes and increases the risk of them floating away as well…

If you do open your eyes underwater with contacts in, make sure you take them out and ideally dispose of them as soon afterwards as possible, and rinse your eyes with eye drops.

How can you treat eye irritation and/or burning eyes?

If you experience eye irritation or burning eyes after opening your eyes in a chlorinated pool or salt water, flush your eyes out with an eye rinse or eye drops. Both chlorine and salt water can be very drying on the eyes, so keep your eye drops on hand and use them as needed to soothe your eyes.

If your eyes become very red and sore, this can be something that is actually visible in your underwater photographs. The best way to avoid this is not to spend too long in the water at one stretch, and to use eye drops. It’s pretty hard to quickly reverse the redness, unfortunately, so this may be something your photographer has to just fix when editing your photographs.

Is it safe to open your eyes underwater?

Unfortunately if you do open your eyes underwater, there is an increased risk of eye infections, so that is something you need to watch out for. Swimming pools, freshwater and saltwater pools all have a risk of containing bacteria and other nasties that could damage your eyes – and the same goes for natural bodies of water like the ocean, as well!

If your eyes are red, sore, blurry or burning the next day after your swim, or if they are really painful, you may have an eye infection – get your doctor to check you out.

Can you open your eyes underwater?

Do you have any tips for how to open your eyes underwater that you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

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